Sneak Peek: Bruce Munro’s ‘Light’ Illumines Cheekwood

Three years after a large-scale exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s illuminated glass sculptures drew record crowds, Cheekwood officials hope to lure them again with an even larger set of installations best seen at night. Bruce Munro’s “Light” opens Friday and runs through early November.

In all, the exhibit features nine installations by British artist, plus a display of his smaller work in the mansion’s art gallery. Each features one or more types of electric lights, with fiber optics playing an especially strong role. A few are brand new, created specifically with sites at Cheekwood in mind. The rest are versions of installations the British artist has made before, although even those required a certain degree of new construction or fabrication. Not every element in these displays can be reused from site to site, and in some cases Munro chooses to make more or use less of the individual pieces involved, in order to fit the space at hand.

Field of Lights is the most massive of all the installations, covering not only the mansion lawn but also surrounding gardens. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Field of Lights is the most massive of all the installations, covering not only the mansion lawn but also surrounding gardens. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Field of Light is the exhibit’s signature installation. 20,000 small glass globes seem to sprout out of the ground on narrow, metal stems. Fiber optic lighting threads both illumine the inside of the globes and snake from piece to piece on the ground. There are several colors of light across the field-white, purple, pink, green-and each globe slowly morphs between them all.

Field of Light also fills the Howe Wildflower Garden. While Munro has shown this piece multiple times, the Cheekwood installation is its largest iteration to date. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Field of Light also fills the Howe Wildflower Garden. While Munro has shown this piece multiple times, the Cheekwood installation is its largest iteration to date. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Along with Munro’s work, “Light” marks the debut of new, permanent lighting around the gardens that will allow Cheekwood to keep evening hours on a regular basis. But some of the new lights will be left off during this exhibit. Those around the mansion lawn, for instance, interfere with the intended effect of “Field of Light.”

Cheekwood's new, permanent lighting lights the bamboo leading to the Japanese garden, while Munro's sprays of cool, white lights fill in below. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Mirrors hidden behind the bamboo help create the illusion that the lights cover a larger space than the narrow trail actually includes. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

However, in the bamboo-lined path leading to the Japanese garden, both kinds of lighting work together.

Permanent fixtures illumine the leafy shoots, while Munro’s delicate sprays of bright, white pinpoints fill in along the ground.

There are also large spheres every few yards along the walkway. You have to look close to realize that they’re lights, too, casting a glow on the earth directly below. Munro says he’d intended to make them as oil lamps, but decided he couldn’t make them bright enough for even that quiet effect. Instead, during installation he ran to the store and bought flashlights which he fit into the fixtures, instead.

Fiber optic lights in brilliant colors are coiled inside tall columns of water bottles. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Fiber optic lights in brilliant colors are coiled inside tall columns of water bottles. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPL

Like “Field of Light,” the brightly-colored “Water Towers” change color at a slow pace. However, the lights in these forty tall structures are triggered in part by the music played through speakers within the structures.

The forty columns themselves are made from plastic drinking water bottles, the kind you’d buy at the corner store, with water still inside.

Delicate white fiber optics drop from the buiding's rotunda, ending about 7 feet from the ground in delicate, conical shades. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Delicate white fiber optics drop from the buiding’s rotunda, ending about 7 feet from the ground in delicate, conical shades. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Inside, large pieces hang from extra-tall ceilings and a handful of smaller sculptures fill an upstairs gallery.

There is a grid of backlit glass molded to look like the surface of a sandy beach, a  sculpture of a giant egg in a nest of lights also contains a music box, which visitors can wind up and hear; and what looks like a large, clouded mirror briefly flashes bright images of faces.

But back outside, from almost every spot on the grounds, you can’t help but notice one of Munro’s newest creations. By day, “Light Reservation” looks like teepee poles made of thick tubes. At night they flash with intense colors, which reflect in Cheekwood’s two-tiered lake.

Bruce Munro Discusses His Work:

Munro describes how sound and light work together in Water Towers:

Hear Munro explain how Light Reservations uses a technique he first learned for keeping predators away from livestock:

Flourescent tubes flicker and reflect in Cheekwood’s lake:


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